“Love could be labeled poison and we’d drink it anyway.” ~Atticus
Love is a tricky subject. It’s multifaceted, both subjectively and objectively. It’s both lost and found within the complex folds of our unique mind-body-spirit dynamic. It’s both a spiraling in and a spiral out. We all know the “feeling” of love, but we can’t seem to describe it to each other. But boy do we try: in poetry, in song, in dance, in bed. Even in art.
Unfortunately, the predominant love paradigm in our culture is egocentric, ownership-based love. We live in a world where relationships are mostly based upon materialism, ownership and immediate gratification. It’s almost like we’re conditioned to consume to the point that we “consume” each other. Even the words we use toward each other imply ownership.
It’s sad. But no condition is insurmountable. We can recondition ourselves to form healthy relationships based upon respect, honesty, and trust. We can update the love paradigm into one of soul-centric, relationship-based love. But first we need to recognize each other as opposite sides of the same being. Our yin-yang dynamic is more dynamic than we tend to allow it to be.
The thing is, our language is dreadfully inadequate to do the concept of love any justice. There are over seven-billion people on the planet and we each have a different psycho-physiological reaction to any given stimuli, however minute that difference. And with abstract stimuli such as Love, Consciousness, and God, that difference is magnified.
The fact is: we each have our own definition for the concept of love (ego), but that definition is written in a language older than words (soul). So how do we understand this language? Simply put: mindfulness. More complexly put: we must become aware of what our mind-body-spirit is telling us, and then be honest about that information regarding our relationships. And poetically put: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” ~Mary Oliver
The ability to love (vulnerability):
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” ~Brene Brown
Our ability to love another person is predetermined by our ability to love ourselves. Similar to the airplane-crash-landing analogy, “Always put the mask on yourself before assisting someone who may be less capable,” we must put the Mask of Love on ourselves before loving someone who may or may not be capable of authentic love.
The irony is that we must first learn self-love to understand that egocentric love isn’t the healthiest way to love. We must first love our ego in order to transform it into an ego that isn’t just in love with itself. An ego that isn’t loved tends to become self-serving and egocentric (codependent or merely independent), but an ego that is loved tends to become self-actualized and soul-centric (interdependent).
An ego that has learned interdependence through self-love is more likely to love authentically. It is more likely to be vulnerable with another ego. And vulnerability is the key to loving greatly. It’s the secret of deep authenticity. A crucial aspect of self-actualized love, as opposed to egocentric love, is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable so that we may be astonished by love, taken aback by it, in awe of it. As the great Rumi once said, “Close your eyes. Fall in love. Stay there.”
The ability to let others love (freedom):
“The only way of loving a person is to love them without hope.” ~Walter Benjamin
Have you ever caught yourself saying this, regarding love and relationships? “I just don’t want to get hurt.” Or heard someone else say it? We hear people say this, and we nod in empathy, followed by an understanding pat on the back, or a sympathetic hug.
But, wait a minute! Who ever said getting hurt wasn’t a part of love? Are not pain and love two sides of the same coin? If we love something deeply enough, does it not hurt when we lose it? The thing is, the ability to love another person takes an enormous act of courage. And if we are genuinely allowing ourselves to love another person, then we must open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt. This is what it means to be vulnerable. If we’re not “all in,” then what’s the point of trying?
Pain should not be avoided at the expense of love. Love should be embraced at the risk of pain. Indeed.
If we’ve already learned to love ourselves, which we should have taken care of before attempting to love another person anyway, then insecurities be damned! It’s time to go for it. It’s time to move all in. Rejection happens. But if we don’t at least give it a shot, and that means getting vulnerable and laying our insecurities out on the table like a bad hand of poker, then we’ll never know if it could have been something magical or not.
A relationship is actually two uniquely different people who have gone from being independent dancers to becoming an interdependent dance. This is the beauty of romantic, soul-centric love. It becomes a dance. But, and here’s the rub, the dance can only be enjoyable if both parties are free to dance… or not.
This is where it gets difficult: allowing our partner to love the way they need to love. This sounds simple enough, but it is deceivingly simple. Because we might not like the way they love. It requires good communication skills, brutal honesty, and an exemplary trust in the other dancer.
One of the biggest assumptions we make about love is imagining that the other person loves the same way that we do. In other words, we assume that what the other person means by love means the same thing that we mean by it. But this simply cannot be true if we are genuinely allowing the other person to be an individual with their own unique tastes and opinions.
Letting our lover love the way they need to love is just as much a part of the dance as our unique way of loving is. But we must be honest, first with ourselves and then with our partners. Sometimes this honesty will hurt, but pain is necessary for growth. And if a relationship is what we’re trying to grow, then pain is par for the course.
If the way another person loves doesn’t jive with the way that you love, then the dance either needs to end or it needs to take on a new form. If this sounds counter-intuitive, that’s because it is. As the great Victor Hugo cryptically stated, “Love is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.”
The ability to let love go (compersion):
“Everything we love is well-arranged dust.” ~Atticus
The ability to let love go is our ability to let go of our ego’s attachment to it.
Falling in love is both very easy and very difficult. It is easy when we are coming from a place of non-attachment and interdependence; when we’re allowing all things to mysteriously and majestically flow. But it is difficult when we are coming from a place of attachment and codependence, and we’re rigidly trying to control everything. It’s the difference between being Love, and vainly trying to pigeonhole love into the box of our expectation.
As Stephen Levine profoundly stated, “True love has no object. Many speak of their unconditional love for another. Unconditional love is the experience of being. You cannot unconditionally love someone. You can only be unconditional love. It is not a dualistic emotion. It is a sense of oneness with all that is. The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal. It is a feeling of unity. You don’t love another, you are another.”
When we let love go, we’re not letting go of Love itself –not at all. We are letting go of the ego aspect of love. We’re letting go of the attachment, the need to cling. It’s not like we let go of love and then forget about it. No, it’s more like we are saying goodbye. Like proud parents who are sad that their child has left home, but are happy for their growth and open to the possibility of their return.
Love itself is never abandoned, nor is it forgotten. Only the needy, codependent, ego side of love that’s filled with unhealthy expectations and cultural predispositions about the way love should be is abandoned. Authentic love lasts forever, despite us, and even in spite of our egos. The more we let love go, the more we realize that we never owned it in the first place. It was never a thing that could be owned. It could only ever have been free, or it was never really love at all.
So, let’s learn to be Love in the face of expectation. Let’s be Love despite the love that thinks it needs validation. Let’s be Love even when others cannot. That is the heart of both compersion and forgiveness… Love, let others love, and then let go of your ego’s attachment to love. Do this, again and again, in a kind of loving life-death-rebirth process, and the ability of soul-centric, self-actualized love will not elude you.